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Charlene’s Desert-Themed Nursery

Well Rounded’s managing editor shows off her shared sibling space.

Charlene’s Desert-Themed Nursery

When we moved into our two-bedroom New York City apartment two years ago from Baltimore, we had it all figured out... Or so we thought. Arthur, our then 8-months-old son, would inherit the smallest room in our new apartment, and his Baltimore nursery would remain virtually intact. It would have the same decor, the same furniture, the same mood. After all, it looked great in our Baltimore house, so why would we want to change things up?

Although Arthur’s new Brooklyn room felt sort of “off” from the get-go, we were so attached to the universe we had created for him that we never considered switching things around. That is, until I got pregnant with baby number 2.

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Having to make space for a whole new person was unnerving, especially in an apartment where space was at a premium. Could we possibly make it all fit? More importantly, we needed to put together a nursery that would cater to both a toddler and a baby, a room that would be playful, comfortable and stylish all at once.

That’s when we realized we had a great opportunity at our fingertips: to practice the intricate art of living a well-designed life… with kids. We dove headfirst into a serious nursery revamp and, with the help of our friend and design guru Sarah Bean, created an environment where everyone could truly feel at home.

1. Making Space

The first step to this new venture was to make room for all of baby’s essentials. So in good small-space dweller fashion, we Marie Kondo-ed the hell out of our apartment. Sadly, it wasn’t enough -- Arthur’s small bedroom simply couldn't fit an extra crib, let alone baby’s gazillion onesies, swaddles and diapers. We had to think outside the box… ahem, the room -- that is, to concede the master bedroom (and the awesome luxury of having a master bathroom) to our kids. Eager to get to the actual redesign, we quickly made the switch, and low and behold, it was one of the best decisions we've ever made. The once-upon-a-time parental room was big enough not only to fit all nursery necessities (including a wide chaise where the whole family can sink into for story time), but also to serve its newest, tiniest tenants’ needs and let them sleep, play, dance and (hopefully) build long-lasting, bonding memories.

2. Choosing a Theme

Then came the daunting task of choosing a theme and selecting the decor accordingly. We knew we wanted our sons’ shared bedroom to feel personal and familiar, to convey a little more about us and, in doing so, to lend us joy. Southern California is where my grandmother once lived; where I met my now husband, Teddy; and where he and I lived for the bigger part of our relationship. And though we love the life that we have forged here, in New York City, both Teddy and I still consider Los Angeles to be our second home. So a California desert theme came to us quite naturally. With it, we thought, comes a laidback, sunny vibe full of happy memories and fun opportunities to let our little ones’ imaginations run wild.

3. The Focal Points

Anewall’s cacti wallpaper was the first piece we agreed on. It’s now the focal point of the room and really brings the theme to life. The West Elm dresser, which also serves as our changing table and clothing storage, showcases six eclectic wood finishes and makes for an artful statement that complements the wallpaper perfectly. The bellabloomkids mobile, which we customized with walnut, natural, black and white tones, hangs pretty in front of the cacti and is sure to bring wonders to baby brother’s slumber.

The white Babyletto crib and Oeuf toddler bed both convey a minimalism that is bright and airy and that gives the illusion of a bigger space. All the white furniture is also a great canvas to highlight all the vibrant and colorful accessories in the room; and the striped fitted sheets add texture without upstaging the geometrical rug, the bohemian and tribal pillows and Arthur’s favorite plush toys.

4. The Details

More than being playful and true to the theme, the art around the room tells Arthur’s story. The Fennec fox watercolor print, which my friend and founder of My Cute Ones drew, illustrates his transition out of his old fox-filled nursery and into the new desert room he will soon share with his brother. The Palm Spring dino art is both an ode to California and a hint at his obsession with T-Rexes. The family pictures were all taken in California, where Arthur has already vacationed a bunch of times. The three square prints that we taped by his bed are some of his favorites and, we hope, will provide him with comfort and joy while he falls asleep.

Because we have limited space, the nursery also houses all of the toys and Arthur’s most prized treasures. But we wanted the decor to encourage our children’s interests without feeling like the whole room has devolved into a tacky mess. With that in mind, you can find Arthur’s dearest playthings (like part of his dinosaur collection and is Tegu blocks) in the spotlight, making independent play as organic as possible and cleanup as easy as can be. His favorite books are also within his reach, and most of the musical instruments -- from the egg shakers to the djembe to the wooden frog percussion that Teddy got from the Claremont music store where we met -- are at floor level and accessible, even to an adventurous crawler.

This nursery revamp was a monster of a project. It took me months to find all the creative bits that not only spoke to us, but also that I needed to build a kid zone where play and style collide.

I know that life is unpredictable and that our needs will likely change sooner than I think, making the design of this room (and of my entire apartment) a work perpetually in progress. But for now, the system that we have in place works; and I hope it can foster a happy backdrop to help our boys figure each other out as they start their lives as big brother and baby brother.

Here's where to get all of Charlene's nursery finds:

Cactus wallpaper: Anewall

Crib: Babyletto

Dresser: West Elm

Toddler bed: Oeuf

Toy storage: Oeuf

Acrylic bookcase: Land of Nod

Chaise: Ikea

Mid-century rack: Home of The Brave

Mattresses: Newton

Rug: Anthropologie

Camp nightlight: Land of Nod

Mobile: Bellabloomkids

Bison print: The Animal Shop

Palm Spring dino photo: Urban Outfitters

Fennec Fox watercolor print: My Cute Ones

Cactus drawing: Minted

Canvas art: Urban Outfitters

Framed family pictures: Framebridge

Square photos: Artifact Uprising

Cactus tape: Paper Source

Crib sheets: Land of Nod

Changing pad cover: Land of Nod

Changing station pint: Petit Pehr

Swaddle blankets: Little Unicorn

Musical instruments (djembe, egg shakers): Norman & Jules

Wooden Frog: Folk Music Center

Indigo pillows: Boho Pillows

African mudcloth pillows: Maewoven

Cactus pillow: Norman & Jules

Chaise mid-century feet: Etsy, Forge Hardware Studio

Linen throw: Caroline Z Hurley

Plush Animals: Jelly Cat

Styling by Sarah Bean.

Photography by Stylish & Hip Kids.

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.



Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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